Board Member Spotlight: Lewis & Clark CDC’s Shawn Wenko, Executive Director of Williston Development Office

Lewis & Clark Development Group is fortunate to benefit from the expertise of so many state and community leaders who serve on our three boards of directors. Their service and support allows LCD Group’s three entities – Lewis & Clark Regional Development Council (RDC), Lewis & Clark Certified Development Company (CDC), and CommunityWorks North Dakota (CWND) – to fulfill our mission and positively impact businesses, communities, families, and individuals throughout North Dakota.

We recently visited with Lewis & Clark CDC member Shawn Wenko, Williston Economic Development Office, about the importance of CDCs on economic development and what is happening in Williston.

About Shawn Wenko 

Shawn Wenko is the executive director of the Williston Economic Development Office, a department within the City of Williston. Wenko oversees the city’s business development services for existing and new owners, developers, and investors.

Wenko was elected to the Lewis & Clark CDC Board last year. A native of Williston, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Black Hills State University and an MBA from George Washington University. Wenko returned to his hometown in 2008 as the workforce development coordinator to spearhead the city commission’s ‘Build Williston Initiative’ and was named executive director in 2014.

Among his accomplishments during the last seven years has been the design and implementation of Williston State College’s Western Star Career and Technical Center. Wenko also helped with the planning and development phase of the TrainND Petroleum Training Center. The center plays a pivotal role in the City of Williston and Cardon Global’s public-private partnership on the redevelopment of Sloulin Field, which is the largest redevelopment project in Williston’s history.

The energy boom focused national and global attention on Williston. Wenko has been featured in multiple national and international publications. Wenko’s office was also recognized by the International Economic Development Council in 2015, 2017, and 2019 with awards of excellence in various categories. He is a past recipient of Prairie Business Magazine’s “20 under 40,” received the 2018 Williston Chamber of Commerce Western Star Award, and was recognized as the 2020 North Dakota Developer of the Year. Wenko actively serves as President of the Economic Development Association of North Dakota and is a member of the TrainND Petroleum Training Center Advisory Board (Northwest Division).

What makes service on the Lewis & Clark CDC board meaningful to you?
I am a ‘newbie’ on the board having served for less than a year. I would say I am still in the learning phase. For me, the rewarding part of economic development is watching the entrepreneur create something they have dreamed of. I like to think we have had a hand in helping those entrepreneurs secure the needed financing to achieve their goals.

WalletHub listed Williston as the third best small city in the United States to start a business. What you doing right in Williston?

Over the past several years, we have built a strong relationship with the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) office. We’ve created a unique partnership to market and advise budding entrepreneurs on the steps to achieve their goals fo starting a small business. The levels of inquiries into my office as a result of this partnership has been intense.

What impact is Lewis & Clark CDC having on businesses in the Williston area?

Williston experienced such extensive growth over the past 12 years, the community is still catching up on the small business side of things. Small business development is booming here regardless of the impact of COVID-19. Many of these projects have gone through Lewis and Clark CDC.

Starting or expanding a business is not easy. It takes groups like the local economic development offices, SBDC, and Lewis and Clark Development Group to make a project a reality. The value can be underestimated, but if you ask any small business that has worked with any of these entities, the will tell you the value.